HC Deb 08 May 1990 vol 172 cc49-54

'.—(1) The Welsh Authority shall make arrangements for ascertaining—

  1. (a) the state of public opinion concerning programmes broadcast on S4C;
  2. (b) any effects of such programmes on the attitudes or behaviour of persons who watch them; and
  3. (c) the types of programme that members of the public would like to be broadcast on S4C.

(2) Those arrangements shall—

  1. (a) secure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, any research undertaken in pursuance of the arrange-ments is undertaken by persons who are neither members nor employees of the Welsh Authority; and
  2. (b) include provision for full consideration by the Authority of the results of any such research.'.—[Mr. Mellor.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.15 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Harold Walker)

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 15, in clause 34, page 29, line 23, after 'licence', insert `(i)'. No. 16, in page 29, line 24, at end insert— '(ii) in relation to a regional Channel 3 licence granted for an area which includes all or any part of Wales, programme schedules for programmes to be broadcast on S4C; and'. No. 17, in clause 52, page 44, line 27, leave out subsection (3) and insert— `(3) The Welsh Authority shall secure— (a) that during any period allocated by them to the broadcasting of a programme not in Welsh, the programme broadcast by them on S4C is normally the same as the programme (or one of the programmes) being broadcast on Channel 4 during that period; and, so far as reasonably practicable, that the re-scheduling of Channel 4 programmes for broadcasting on S4C shall be compatible with the scheduling of those programmes for broadcasting on Channels 4; but this subsection shall not be taken to require—

  1. (i) the simultaneous broadcasting of any programme on both Channel 4 and S4C;
  2. (ii) the broadcasting by the Welsh Authority of any advertisement broadcast on Channel 4;
(b) that there shall be appropriate advance publicity relating to the intended times of transmission of Welsh language programmes and of Channel 4 programmes on S4C.'. No. 572, in clause 53, page 45, line 8, at end insert— '(5) Where any programmes provided under subsection (3) each form part of a series of programmes, the Welsh Authority shall ensure that the intervals between those programmes when broadcast on S4C normally correspond to the intervals between them when broadcast on Channel 4. (6) The Welsh Authority shall publish, in such manner as they consider appropriate, advance notice of the programmes schedules for the programme to be broadcast on S4C.'.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

On a pont of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I draw to your attention the fact that it was not until lunchtime today that we had Mr. Speaker's final selection of amendments? I am complaining not about the amendments or the new clauses he selected, but simply the mechanics. We are faced with 736 amendments and 36 new clauses, and we have to get them into a form of which we can make use in the interests of a sensible debate. I understand that there is nothing novel in the procedure, but when a Bill attracts so many amendments perhaps the relevant authorities should consider whether it is possible to make the selection a little earlier so that they are available earlier to both sides of the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand and sympathise with the hon. Member's complaint, but Mr. Speaker is following the usual practice and procedure in such matters. I understand the difficulty when we have such a complicated Bill which requires many amendments. The hon. Member may feel that his complaint should be brought to the attention of the Select Committee on Procedure, but until then I have no option but to follow the usual procedures.

Mr. Mellor

Since this is the first of a large number of amendments selected on Report, may I be permitted the indulgence of commending the work of the Standing Committee which considered the Bill? However long my time in this place, I do not expect to participate in a more positive or agreeable series of debates than those we had on the Broadcasting Bill. Every member of the Committee played a full and active role.

While I understand that some differences will still be revealed on Report, all hon. Members who participated can take some pride in the achievements of the Committee. The Bill has emerged with much wider acceptance for many of its key requirements than was the case before Committee stage, and that is a tribute to the work of the Standing Committee. I thank all hon. Members who participated for assisting me.

Although it is true that we have a formidable task in front of us, with some 700 amendments, to consider, of which more than 500 are Government amendments, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said, those amendments reflect the hard work of the Committee and are a sign of the success of parliamentary procedures, not a criticism of them. As we debate the amendments I hope to demonstrate that I have sought to honour whole-heartedly commitments I made in Committee. We shall have the opportunity to consider all the issues in detail, and I shall now pass to the details.

New clause 22 honours an undertaking I gave in Committee to require Sianel 4 Cymru to engage in audience research. It is modelled on clause 12, which places a similar requirement on the Independent Television Commission.

I express my particular appreciation of the work of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) who raised matters relating to S4C. I hope that he considers it a tribute to his persuasiveness that the Government have come forward with a long raft of amendments on the issue, which should tidy up arrangements for S4C. I hope that we have now got them into good shape. I certainly believe them to be acceptable to S4C.

Of the long list of Government amendments, I would draw attention only to No. 263, which gives S4C more flexibility to show Channel 4 programmes which are not necessarily being broadcoast simultaneously to the rest of the country—in other words, to devise a special Channel 4 programme schedule for Wales. That particularly follows points made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and is our version of his amendment No. 17, which he may feel he does not now need to pursue.

I should like to accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment No. 572. We quite agree that Welsh viewers should be able to watch a series of Channel 4 programmes in the same orderly sequence in which they were shown originally to English and Scottish viewers on Channel 4, and that they should have reasonable notice of what S4C will broadcast, so that they are not misled by the Channel 4 schedules for England and Scotland. That amendment also has the full endorsement of those who run S4C, whose work I commended in Committee.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney tabled two other amendments in this group—amendments Nos. 15 and 16. I regard those as a logical extension of the provisions in clause 34 relating to cross-announcements. I accept the purpose and principle of the amendments, but, alas, I cannot accept them entirely as they stand, for drafting reasons. However, I give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking to have them redrafted and introduced in another place, if that is acceptable to him.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

First, I thank the Minister for the terms and the character in which he moved the new clause and for the support that he has given my amendments. Amendment No. 572 was drafted with his support and assistance.

I should like to set out the context of the amendments. S4C has been a success story within the remit that Parliament gave it some years ago. It was asked to provide a Welsh language station, and that is exactly what it is. It has helped to sponsor and promote talent, ability, imagination and development in Welsh language broadcasting. However, it was never meant to be a ghetto or an exclusive station, since many hours of programmes on S4C are in the English language. The arrangements and particularly the financing of S4C were tied very closely to the station carrying Channel 4 programmes. That is a fundamental condition of the system, and anyone who sought to change it would fundamentally undermine the agreements and arrangements that were made when S4C was established.

Nevertheless, developments have occurred which have made it necessary to build upon and develop the concept of S4C as a station primarily developed to offer Welsh language programmes, but also carrying Channel 4's English programmes. However, we must develop that concept without breaking it. Since the inauguration of S4C, two developments have necessitated the amendments that I tabled and that the Minister has accepted in principle—and in one case, in practice.

First, Channel 4 has turned out to be much more popular than most people thought it would be, with the inevitable result that many people in Wales feel deprived because they cannot see Channel 4 programmes. Therefore, as we move into the 1990s it is essential that S4C takes fully into account that demand and pressure from a large number of people who view Channel 4 through S4C in Wales.

Secondly, as the new director-general, Stanley Geraint Jones, and his team have recognised, there will be growing commercial pressures in the 1990s on commercial television in general and on Channel 4 and on S4C and S4C will have to respond as it cannot afford to be a ghetto in its response to a large viewing public in Wales who do not understand the Welsh language and want to see Channel 4 programmes.

For those two reasons, I argued in Committee that those new pressures and the new context of the 1990s in which S4C will operate must be recognised in statute. That is why I pressed the arguments that are now contained in amendments Nos. 572, 15 and 16. I shall briefly outline the basis on which those amendments were tabled.

As one grows older in parliamentary terms, one's parliamentary posterity grows increasingly modest. I am now down to the thankful pleasure of having drafted an entire subsection of a major Government Bill that the Minister now accepts. I suppose that that is a form of parliamentary posterity, so long as, when my party comes to power, Ministers do not abolish the subsection which I have managed painstakingly to negotiate and which the Minister has accepted with great warmth and spirit. I am grateful to him for accepting amendment No. 572, which we and the Home Office helped to draft.

Amendment No. 572 is important, because it places an obligation upon S4C to schedule Channel 4 series and programmes in an orderly fashion. Frankly, that is where S4C has failed. If the aim of the 1980s was getting S4C off the ground, the aim of the 1990s is getting its scheduling accurate and sensible and coherent. A very popular series, "Golden Girls", was carried on Channel 4 and everyone eagerly looked forward to seeing it on S4C. Unfortunately, it was not scheduled in a consistent and coherent way. That has happened to a number of programmes.

I pay tribute to the Welsh advisory committee of the IBA, which repeatedly stressed to S4C that it was vital that there should be some consistency in scheduling Channel 4 programmes. In subsection (5) of amendment No. 572, we have tried to write in some statutory obligation on S4C to do just that.

Subsection (6) of our amendment—I say "ours" because the Government assisted in drafting it—seeks to ensure that S4C makes more effort to publicise Channel 4 programmes. Again, it is sometimes a matter of hunting for when a series or a serial will start as there may be a considerable gap between the beginning of a series on Channel 4 and the beginning of that series on S4C. There may be perfectly good reasons for that, but there must be consistency and coherence in the way in which S4C broadcasts Channel 4 series and serials.

I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the principle of amendments Nos. 15 and 16, which place upon the commercial television stations in Wales—HTV or any new franchise holder—the same obligation that will be placed on Channel 3 commercial stations to advertise, support and draw to the attention of its viewers what is shown on Channel 4. Therefore, it is absolutely logical that there should be such a statutory commitment. Recently, an agreement has been struck between HTV and S4C on advertising, but it is an agreement for only one year. I believe that it should be a statutory obligation, as it will be for other commercial television stations in regard to Channel 4.

I believe that the amendments are modest, useful and important to the way in which S4C will operate in future. It is looking forward to expanding in Swansea to reach out to its Welsh-speaking audience, but it must reach out increasingly to a large audience of those who could be described as Anglo-Welsh. We have had discussions in Committee, and I believe that we can raise the matter in the context of other amendments and new clauses, about how Anglo-Welsh broadcasting will fit in, and its role for the 1990s.

These are not necessarily the amendments on which to debate that fundamental issue, although they follow the same principle. Whether or not it applies in a commercial station, in BBC Wales or in the new broadcasting formats, such as cable—which we shall have great opportunities to discuss in the next two and a half days—at least the one station established by Parliament to fulfil a specific function—that is, S4C—will seek in the 1990s to reach out to the larger audience and nation that exist beyond the Welsh-speaking community. I am grateful to the Minister for responding so positively to the amendments.

5.30 pm
Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

I do not want to detain my hon. and learned Friend the Minister in pressing the provision into the Bill, as it is an excellent amendment. I suspect that his predecessor had correspondence on audience research for television. I must declare my interest as chairman of the Broadcasting Audience Research Bureau, which was set up under the Annan committee, and which comprises the BBC and ITV. Shortly, it will comprise the satellite companies as well.

No statutory requirement is laid on individual companies within the ITV network to proceed with research of the kind introduced by the new clause. The reason for that is that research is to be regarded as a matter for the company itself and not as a matter laid down by the authorities. However, my hon. and learned Friend will be aware of a small problem that occurs when the franchises of individual companies—and, therefore, of the Independent Television Association as a whole—come up for renewal. There is a gap between the statutory continuity to research, and the separate commercial decisions which companies take in their own right and collectively as the ITA to continue with research.

I commend the principle of the new clause. It seeks to establish on a statutory basis that the Welsh authority has a right to see that research is carried out, although that is more in terms of audience opinion than in measuring the number of homes or the intensity of viewing. My hon. and learned Friend will be aware how one cannot be divorced from the other if one wants to establish the pulling power of a programme. Will my hon. and learned Friend briefly take note that the obligation to research is uniquely advantageous to S4C? I commend the idea on a wider scale, if my hon. and learned Friend is considering that.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

I agree with the Minister's remarks. Although about half a dozen issues separate the Opposition and the Government because of their deeply felt views, there is no division on party lines on the vast majority of the Bill. It was to the credit of the Committee that the debate there was always conducted without rancour and in a positive spirit. I am glad that the Minister was able to accept many suggestions, both from the Opposition and from his own Back Benchers. As he rightly said, most of the amendments in this group concern matters that he agreed to look at again, and that is welcome.

I have few comments to make on the group, although I agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) that the requirement to ascertain public opinion, which the new clause will lay on S4C, might well be applied to other parts of the television network.

I also want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney ( Mr.Rowlands) for his work in Committee and on Report in improving the service offered by S4C. He was right to pay a strong tribute to Mr. Stanley Geraint Jones, the new director-general, and to say that many of the difficulties that S4C had at first are now being tackled. I have no doubt that he will be a credit to Wales and to the service that the channel provides. Some of us who come from another part of the United Kingdom look with envy at what S4C has done in Wales. Perhaps we can learn from its experience. The Opposition can have no quarrel with the group of amendments; it is better to save our fire for the issues that divide us rather than to take up further time on matters that unite us.

Mr. Mellor

I want to respond briefly to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw). A research obligation is placed on other parts of the system as well as on S4C. Although we obviously do not think that it is our task to delineate further what that obligation might be, I am sure that it will lead to the continuation of research work such as that over which my hon. Friend rightly presides with BARB.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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